Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Baby and Toddler groups

I go to one Baby and Toddler Group.  It's little (too little actually, we are struggling to be viable at the moment - any new members please?) and friendly and right here in the village.  So we toddle down there every Tuesday and have a nice big village hall to run around in and lots of interesting toys to play with, and I get a change of scenery and some lovely mums to chat to.  
Just one group a week is apparently quite unusual for a Stay-at-home-mum.  I know several who have groups to go to nearly every day of the week, sometimes one in the morning and one in the afternoon!  I like just one though.

I've heard new mums wondering how they are ever going to make any "mummy" friends.  They are newly at home and their friends are still at work and/or childless and they suddenly feel all cut off and alone.  I always advise that they get along down to their local parent and baby group, assuming that this friendly group will be as welcoming and friendly as the group I belong to...

... I have now discovered that they aren't all like this.

I found a booklet in the library last Monday about Clackmannanshire Storytelling Festival, and one of the events was going to be a drumming workshop for toddlers, hosted by another toddler group (do I mention the name?  Hell yes, name and shame, it was Alva Toddlers).  So last Tuesday at our toddler group I shared the info and we collectively decided that we would cancel our group and go to the drumming workshop.
The drumming bit was fine.  The toddler group was massive, way bigger than our little group (we've never had more than about a dozen children, and more often operate with about five).  There were children everywhere, and adults everywhere, and a lot of noise, and a lot of toys.  You know what though?  We were there for an hour and a half, looking friendly and everything, and in an hour and a half not one person spoke to either me or my children.  Not one.  Even though we joined in with the drumming, and we joined in with snack.  Everybody just chatted with the people they knew, and dealt with their own children and totally ignored us.  I couldn't wait to get out of there.  

Now I know what people mean when they say that they tried their local toddler group and won't be going back.  All of you, come and join our Baby and Toddler Group.  We welcome everybody, chat to everybody, make you a tea or coffee and have a nice time.  Okay - rant over... and breathe...

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Simple craft ideas for toddlers - Paper weaving

Anybody remember good old paper weaving from Primary School days?
I had a delivery of art and craft supplies yesterday, which included a pack of construction paper, so while a tired Bug extended her afternoon nap, C and I took the opportunity to try a new skill.

I took the piece of background colour paper and folded it in half, then cut from the fold to about an inch away from the edge of the paper to make slits.  I then cut the other piece of paper into strips about an inch wide.
I then showed C how to push the paper over and under to weave, and showed him how the colours alternated to make a pattern.  He tried it himself, but found it quite tricky, so needed quite a lot of support, but he loved the result.
This afternoon I think we're going to try some Wool Weaving to make a bracelet, but I'm not entirely convinced that it will be a success... we'll give it a go and show you how we get on.

Monday, 29 October 2012


A local Under-5 group have an annual toy sale.  I think they aim for this time of year deliberately as they know that parents are thinking of clearing space ready for Christmas, and other parents are looking to bag a bargain in the run up to Christmas.  I fall into the latter camp.

We headed to the toy sale without too much cash in hand.  C was allowed to choose a toy for himself up to the value of £5 as a reward for getting twenty stars on his chart.  He chose a (sadly plastic, and with noises) lorry that opens out to a small road and ramp system for little cars.  It cost only £2 and he is delighted with it.

I next spotted a wooden dolls house.  Santa has instructed me to keep an eye out for one of these, and I have been scouring Gumtree and e-bay, but so far have had no bidding success.  Imagine my pleasure when I spotted this amazing one, including the dolls and the furniture - for only £10!  That's Christmas sorted for Bug...

Just next to it - for only £2 was an unopened box of Meccano - a set which retails for between £20 and £30 and was on our radar as a potential Christmas present for C.  Okay then... twist my arm - that's Christmas for C sorted as well.

Is it bad to deliberately spend little on Christmas presents for the children when others spend hundreds of pounds?  I don't think so.  They are still getting something for Christmas that they will really love - I don't imagine that they will mind that it wasn't bought for full price or was previously loved.

Sunday, 28 October 2012


I’ve mentioned Tom Hodgkinson on here before.  He’s the editor of The Idler, and has written books “How to Be Idle”, “How to be Free” and “The Idle Parent”.  I love the principles expressed in “How to be Free” (though not all the ideas in the book), and while I don’t agree with the term Idle I think The Idle Parent is a must-read and describes well how I was brought up and how I wish to bring up my own children.

I’m writing a series of blog posts exploring these two books, and the ideas contained in them further, in the hope that this will help me to explore further the principles behind my own way of living and parenting.
Chapter 13 – Say no to guilt and free your spirit – SAY YES
Tom suggests that we make or allow ourselves to feel guilty.  Guilt, he says, is an emotional payment for when we do something that we or society thinks is wrong, but that the feeling is pointless, it doesn't accomplish anything, and in fact it in some cases it means that we loosen our responsibility for an action by saying that we "feel really guilty about that".  It's as though you are splitting your good self from your bad self and are trying to reject the bad so it's not really you.  Being free of guilt doesn't have to mean being irresponsible.  You can shun guilt and still behave in a reasonable way.

Guilt is self-government.  It's about looking at the actions of the past, and the guilt is supposed to help us to resolve to do better in the future.  The higher your moral standards, says Tom, the greater the guilt.  The answer?  Lower your standards, accept disorder, make things easy for yourself.  If you don't expect so much from yourself then you'll feel a lot less guilt.

How does this match up to the "ink spots and grass stains life"?

I've been told many times that I suffer too much from guilt.  That my guilt debilitates me and lowers my self-esteem.  That I am constantly feeling guilty for not being perfect and that this is a result of my Catholic upbringing.  It's as though guilt is a negative thing.

I don't see my emotions as feelings of guilt, and I certainly don't equate them with my Catholic upbringing.  I believe that I have very high standards - and yes - I do strive for perfection.  Is that a bad thing?  I am always striving to be a better person, to be the best that I can be, to achieve more, to get more done, to improve things.  It does leave me disappointed with myself sometimes that I fail to live up to these expectations, but it just makes me strive all the more for the future.

If that's unhealthy, then I guess that I'm unhealthy.  If that's guilt, then I guess that I'm guilty.  I don't actually see any way out of the situation.  I am generally happy enough with myself, and good enough is sometimes good enough.  Will I ever achieve my ideal and stop feeling I could do or be more?  I don't know, but until I do, I think I'll always be working for it.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Crafty ideas for toddlers - Wool Winding Pictures

Mister MakerMr Maker is a popular man among the three-year-olds in my family.  

To me he's a little over-the-top.  I really don't like the way that he cuts shapes out of the middle of a piece of paper and wastes the rest of the paper.  I spent years as a Primary School Teacher telling children that they should cut from the edge so that as much of the paper as possible can be used for something else.  He seems to require a lot of his resources to be bought, rather than following thrifty and environmentally sound principles of reusing things from around the house.  There aren't many items using bottle tops, egg boxes or old newspaper or loo-roll tubes for example.  Enough ranting - C loves his show on CBeebies.

Yesterday afternoon he decided that he wanted to cut a piece of cardboard.  I immediately made the connection to the wool picture that Mr Maker had made on the television in the morning, and produced the necessary resources.

We needed:

  • pieces of cardboard cut from a cardboard box, about A4 size
  • A4 coloured paper
  • sharp scissors
  • glue
  • sticky tape
  • oddments of coloured wool.
What to do:
  • stick the coloured paper to the cardboard and trim so that they are both the same size.
  • Use the scissors to cut little v-shaped notches around the edge of the card - as many or as few as you like, there should be at least one on each side.
  • Fasten the end of a piece of wool to the back of the card with sticky-tape and start winding it around the card, feeding it through the notches.  The bit that C found tricky was keeping it tight enough rather than just looping it around loosely.
  • When you reach the end of a piece of wool, fasten it on the back of the picture using more sticky tape, and fasten on your new piece of wool.  It looks good with two or three colours.
  • I then cut the centre of another piece of A4 paper (I used a wavy line so that it wouldn't matter if not entirely central or straight!) and stuck this on as a frame (not shown).

C really enjoyed making something he'd seen on the television, and was proud of the result, though he did comment that "it was tricky and hard".

Friday, 26 October 2012

Dear Santa...

Okay, so I know it's early, but when you're a crafty, thrifty kind of mamma (as well as a bit of a control freak) you've got to start early or you really struggle.  So here's what C and I came up with...  I think it's kind of lovely, and is also supposed to be helpful to any of my family out there who keep tabs on the blog!

Dear Santa,
We hope that you and the reindeer are well.  We are looking forward to Christmas.  You will find us at Auntie Janet's, but we will still leave you some beer and a mince pie and tomatoes for the reindeer.

We would be happy with any presents, but here are a few ideas:

  • Bug doesn't have a favourite colour yet, she wears size 5 shoes and age 2 clothes.
  • C's favourite colour is purple.  He wears age 3 clothes and will soon be in size 8 1/2 or 9 shoes.
Some ideas for both of us are:
  • Lego
  • Aquadoodle (travel ones?)
  • an Etch-a-sketch for long journies
  • things for decorating cakes
  • small dolls house
  • things for our babies
  • accessories (hats etc) for our dressing up box
  • playmobil car and trailer with boat (C)
  • pencil case and pencil pot
  • meccano (C)
  • wooden train station and/or level crossing for wooden train set
  • purple motorbike (C)
  • books - we'd quite like "The Tiger who came to tea" and "Gruffalo's Child"
Don't work too hard!
Oh by the way, we think we've mostly been good.

Love from C and Bug

Monday, 22 October 2012

Enchanted Forest

This weekend we went away in the caravan up to Pitlochry.  We were having an adventure weekend.  Here are some of the things we've been up to:
Faskally caravan park nestled in the hills beside the river tummel

  • we camped at Faskally Caravan Park - it's a bit more commercial than we really like, but most other caravan parks in this part of the world had already closed for winter.  As an added bonus the campsite does have a swimming pool on site, which was a lovely way to spend an hour on Sunday morning.

  • We went for a walk to the Falls of Bruar.  The woodlands in Perthshire are absolutely gorgeous at this time of year, and the walk up through the trees alongside the gorge was just incredible.
Polar Bear - Walker.jpg
  • We visited the Highland Wildlife Park, which is a branch of Edinburgh Zoo.  Here you'll find animals that don't mind the chill of a Highland winter - arctic foxes, polar bears, wolves, snowy owls, reindeer, snow monkeys, lynx, capercailie.  It was amazing.  My favourite was definitely the Polar Bears.  It was just mindblowing to be so close to one of the most dangerous animals in the world (to man!), and such a beautiful, playful, gentle looking bear.
    Photography by Liam Somerville
  • In the evening we headed back to Pitlochry for our Enchanted Forest expedition.  The Enchanted Forest is an amazing light and sound show which takes place every autumn in the woods around Pitlochry.  It has to be seen to be believed, but if you follow the link to their website, you get some video excerpts to give you an idea of what it's like.  C's favourite parts were: the bus ride (you have to get a bus from the centre of Pitlochry as carparking at the venue is not appropriate for the numbers); the "floating light shapes" and the "moon bit where the fairies were" - there were no visible fairies, but what else could have made such beautiful music and lights?
  • On Sunday, after our swim, we headed to look at the exclusive but very nice emporium at the House of Bruar, where we had lunch and a look around.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Latest crafting... Santa needed some help...

So, I had a message from Santa.  It seems that Mrs Christmas' arthritis has been causing her problems with her knitting this year, so he asked me to lend a hand with a couple of items for my children's Christmas stockings.
Of course I told him that would be no problem, and thanks for letting me know in plenty of time, and got busy.  The patterns are from "Knitted Toys" by Jean Greenhowe.  
The one with the purple hat is for C, as purple is currently his favourite colour, and the one with the green hat and scarf is for Bug, as though she has no favourite colour yet, her eyes are green.
I'm trying out photographing with a light box, as I don't feel that my photos really do justice to how I want this blog to look... what do you think?  Less cluttered or too empty?  The pencil is there to show the scale of the penguins.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Taking care of your four legged friend - while two legged whirlwinds rule your life

With approximately 8 million pet dogs in the UK (source - Pet Food Manufacturers Association pet statistics 2011), there's a fair chance that quite a few of them belong to families with young children.  Dogs need time and attention, and so do children - how do we balance out these two needs?

We got our dog from an RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) rescue centre about a year before we had our children.  When we first went to the rescue centre we were honest about the fact that we had never owned a dog before, and that we were planning to start a family in the following couple of years.  That way they were able to match us to a dog that matched our needs.  We also told them that we wanted a dog who would like a lot of outdoor exercise.  This particular dog is definitely a good match!

I spent that first year doing a lot of training.  She's a clever dog, and I think somebody had made some attempt to train her before (she was a year and a half old, and had been in the rescue centre building up weight and regrowing her hair for six months before we took her), because she was a genuine delight to train - very responsive.  I aimed for at least three five-minute lessons with her every day, training her to come on command, sit, pay attention, lie down, wait and so on.  She got very protective of me when I was pregnant, so we then had to work on ensuring that she could ignore other dogs too.

Then the children came along - first one and then the other.  Our Waggy-tailed-one was as good as gold.  As the children have got older she has been very tolerant of their boisterousness, but for her welfare and sanity as well as theirs, there have to be a few ground rules:
  1. she must go to her bed whenever instructed
  2. they aren't supposed to go in her bed - it's her space where she can relax without being bothered.  Of course, they do go in her bed to give her a cuddle, but not often, and they respect that it's her place.
  3. if she growls, they must stop whatever they are doing to annoy her, and she must go to her bed
  4. they mustn't climb on her or pull her in any way - only gentle strokes, cuddles and patting
  5. she isn't allowed to jump up on anybody
  6. she isn't fed from the table and isn't allowed to come and clear up from the table until everybody has got down (this is to stop her from begging, and to stop them from feeding her tidbits at table)
  7. even if there are leftovers, they go into her bowl - she isn't allowed to lick the plates (this is to stop her from raiding plates that have carelessly been left on the floor or within reach)
  8. she's not to go through gates or doors or up and down stairs until she's been told "okay", so that she doesn't barge wobbly toddlers and knock them flying.
As they've got older they've started to give commands.  At this point she gets a bit confused about her position in the pack.  To stop any aggression before it starts, we make sure that they feed her, teach them commands, and let them hold the lead when its safe, so that she quickly understands that they come above her in the pack.

Walking the dog can sometimes be a challenge.  Usually Hubby will get up early in the morning and take her before work.  The children love to come for a walk with her, but rain, wind, snow or ice mean that isn't always fun!  What I tend to do is take her for a jog in the evening, but about three times a week, when either Hubby or I are out Scouting in the evening, then the dog can't have an evening walk, so we go during the afternoon.  Sometimes these walks are just that - a walk - but I try to make them a bit more fun, so C might come on his bike, or we might walk to the playpark, or go and play in the woods.  Sometimes C gets to decide where we're going, and the walk might include time to build pixie houses, climb trees or paddle in the stream - whatever it takes to ensure that walking the dog doesn't become a chore, but remains fun.

So far, so good.  Now that we've got past the busiest time with the children, we are going to get started on training again - a bit of "Back to basics" but also some dog agility or similar.  She's a Collie Cross, so needs plenty of brain stimulation as well as exercise.  We're also thinking about getting a cat!

Thursday, 11 October 2012

It's 9am and... here's a normal slice of life

It's 9am in the Ink Spots Household, what goes on in a normal morning here?... if there's such a thing as 'normal' where my family is concerned!

Bug decided to get the playdough out (home made and with glitter in it, tools bought from a charity shop - 50p for the lot), and of course, C had to come and join in...
C decided to move his chair across to the easel (Ikea) and do some chalking, and of course, Bug had to come and join in...
 ...and eat some chalk...

I decided to clean the windows in the kitchen... and of course, C decided to come and join in...

I got the cars out, and we all enjoyed playing with them for ten minutes, I expect we'll get back to that later...

Currently, since I came upstairs to use the computer for ten minutes, they have both abandoned all the play downstairs and come to join me, C is playing my guitar and Bug is drawing next to me.  They are both in a distractible mood this morning, and neither has really settled on any activity.  Perhaps that will change as the morning proceeds, it's only half past nine after all!

What do your little ones do when they have a morning at home?

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The Veg Patch this Autumn

Things haven't been that great on the veg patch this year.  The weather has been so rainy that I've not been out there with the children all that much, and of course veggies like a certain amount of warmth.  Here's what's going on just now:

I have a greenhouse full of unripe tomatoes.  I think I need to start them off a bit earlier next year.  Time is now running out, so I'll be resorting to storing them with a ripe banana (it gives off chemicals which encourage ripening) or I'll be making jars and jars of green tomato chutney!
 The lettuce patch has been pretty productive, and doesn't seem to have suffered too badly with slugs this year.  Things are now beginning to be past their best, but I'm still eating plenty from the garden.
 I've never yet managed a good crop of runner beans, and this year the pattern continues.  Maybe they just don't like my garden (though I got a good batch the other day from the plant in C's little bit of garden).  I've got a few still growing on the pyramid and a basket full in the house.  I wanted to grow them more than anything because I think they look so amazing in flower, but as Hubby isn't that fond of them anyway, I might try one more time next year and then if they don't do much again I'll give them a miss.

The courgette plants were also started off too late, so I haven't had any decent courgettes from them, and now the frosts are killing off the plants.

The carrots last year were amazing, but this year have looked very sorry for themselves.  None have looked ready for harvesting yet.  I may just get in there in the next couple of weeks and get them out, we'll have some baby carrots at least, which will be beautiful roasted whole.

I've now tidied up the fruit bed ready for winter.  I was amazed to see that my new strawberry plants (put in early in the Spring) are still trying to fruit!  I've pruned back the currant bushes, most of which have grown from cuttings I took from my more established bushes last autumn, and have taken the leaves off the rhubarbs and cut down the fruited raspberry canes.

Last year I made the mistake of giving up on my brassicas too early and pulling them out.  This year the cauliflowers had definitely bolted and failed so I've taken them out, but the brussels sprouts are looking okay.  They've had a bit of a cabbage white caterpillar infestation, but I think I managed to pick most of them out, and there are definitely sprouts forming, so hopefully that'll be another new success to bring to the table.

I love producing things from the garden.  I don't take the trouble to read up much, test the soil, thin out or do things "properly", I just tend to throw seeds in and hope for the best.  Advice is always welcome, so if you can see any ways for me to increase my productivity, please do leave a comment!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

A couple of weeks in the life of a... Scout ADC Adult Training

You'll notice that I mostly blog on here about crafty and family oriented activities, but I also spend quite a lot of my time Scouting.  I've been a volunteer with The Scout Association since I was 21, and my current role is Assistant District Commissioner (Adult Training) for Clackmannanshire.

I think that the principles behind Scouting are sound - all about developing young people physically, mentally, spiritually - the whole deal.  Scouting sells itself on the outdoors and adventurous activities, but it does much more than that.  I was a Scout from the age of 15, and I certainly wouldn't be the person I am today without what Scouting offered me.  Most of my closest friends are those I made as a young Scout, and many of the friends I've made as an adult have been through Scouting.  Volunteering, as well as being fun and fulfilling for me, is also about increasing the opportunity for more young people to get the same thing from Scouting.

So what do I do as an ADC (AT)?  Here's a run down of some of the things I've been doing this last couple of weeks:

  • I've delivered a course on "Valuing Diversity"
  • The next night I delivered a course on "Skills of Leadership", which is a fun course involving lots of hands on activity (with toys!).
  • I've updated my training spreadsheet for one of the Groups in the District, ensuring that my list of Leaders matches up with the District Directory and the membership database, updating my list of which modules Leaders have completed.
  • I've been to visit a Leader who has been abandoned without a Training Adviser, and was able to validate a lot of Modules for her based on her previous experience and the knowledge and skills that she demonstrated in our discussion.
  • I've spent an evening beginning the planning process for a training day/weekend that we'll be running for Assistant District and Region Commissioners, which will be held in February.
  • I've started to review the new materials for Modules 11 and 20 (Administration).
Sound like the type of thing that you'd be interested in?  There are nearly half a million Scouts in the UK, and it wouldn't operate without the volunteer Leaders.  There are opportunities for people to be Leaders, administrators, to sit on committees, to occasionally help with activities.  Go to to get in touch with Scouting near you, and I'm sure that they'll be able to make use of whatever skills and time you have to offer.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Creative Ideas - Slate signs

While we were in Wales we visited Machynlleth market, where we saw signs painted on to slate on sale for £5.  Hubby leaned over to me and suggested that it was something anybody could do.  I thought I'd give it a go.  My sister-in-law had a pile of slate outside her house in Wales, its the stone from part of the house that they were demolishing, and she planned to use it for a dry-stone wall along the edge of the garden, but she let me pinch a couple of pieces for my creative endeavours.  I used plastikote enamel paint (we had some sitting down in a box in the cellar).  I painted the main colour first, two coats, and then painted around the edge in black.  They're imperfect, the same as most things that I make, but I think they add something to our garden.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

"Let's Make it Together" - a birthday present for Mummy.

I had a birthday back at the beginning of September (it seems to happen every year, not sure how I manage it!).  This year C bought me a boat.  Just a little one.  One that we could make together.  It's gorgeous.

It's from "The Little Experience" and is a "build it sailing boat kit", available here from The Ethical Superstore.  It even comes with a snazzy little suitcase, as well as everything you will need to make it.

The main hull and keel of the boat is already as one piece, but you put in the mast, paint it, attach the sails and varnish it so that it will actually float on the water.

C has helped me with every step in the process.  We've painted together - this has been a real lesson in patience, as I've only allowed one bit, in one colour to be painted at a time and then left to dry before painting the next bit.  He chose the name for the boat "Cup of Tea" (I think I was drinking one at the time when I asked him to suggest a name).  He helped me use the transfers (I bought these separately) for the name lettering.  He glued in the mast.  And he varnished the boat all by himself (can you tell?).  Now we just have to wait for the varnish to dry and attach the sails, and then we'll be trying it out on the baby bath in the garden.  I can't wait!  

What a fabulous present idea, as something that we made together it's definitely something that I'm going to treasure.

This post is not sponsored in any way by "The Little Experience" company and is entirely my own views on the product.  

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Things to do in Central Scotland - David Marshall Lodge

The large car park surrounding a lake is just three pounds for the day (or there's a well marked cycle trail from Aberfoyle), and you can then concentrate on exploring the woodland.
  • a small play area (pictured); 
  • a large Go Ape high ropes course - we can't wait until our two are old enough and we can all go on that together, the zip wire looks incredible!
  • a good cafe with outdoor seating too and great views
  • a gift shop
  • an information area including live CCTV images of local wildlife hotspots
  • well marked walking and biking trails around the woods, where you will may also come across interesting bridges, information signs, dens and shelters, waterfalls and much more.
This is a great place to spend a day whatever the weather and the season.  Well worth exploring.  Children just seem to come to life when they are in the woods don't they!?